Exterity CEO Colin outlines how Exterity has transformed from a Scottish company from Fife into a market leader with an international reach.
Friday 12 May, Dalgety Bay, Fife: I founded Exterity in 2001 with Mike Allan, our Chief Technology Officer to this day – the year the dotcom bubble burst. Mike and I had worked in the same company two years earlier; he was running the engineering department while I was a product marketing manager.
We both felt that, while we were both victims of this particular downturn/crisis, the tech market itself was growing quickly and we decided to take the chance to create our own technology business. The concept of Exterity was born later that year.
At that time, many video providers were relying on cabling to distribute TV content around buildings – something we believed to be an expensive, inflexible and unsustainable solution.
We recognised video streaming over Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) as a gateway to the future of how TV and video content would be delivered. At the time, it was radical and about 3-5 years ahead of the game.
Today, it is a mainstream delivery method that has been adopted by a wide variety of companies around the world – from banks in China to school districts in the United States, hotels and oil rigs in the Middle East, and stadiums in Europe.
While there was demand for our concept, success didn’t come overnight. Instead, Exterity has been 17 years of relentless, focused and dedicated work in the making.
Reflecting back on how Exterity began, and how it evolved into one of the market leaders in the industry today, we believe our success can be boiled down to four key ingredients.
Sustain your selling efforts at all times
Funding is only the tip of the iceberg for any start-up – once the company is afloat, the real challenge consists in signing up customers. Without their sustained support, our business would not exist.
As a Scottish start-up, the level of investment we could dream of was always going to be smaller than our US counterparts. With funding contributions as high as $10 million, our American competitors were able to hit the ground running very quickly and aggressively – hiring engineers to develop products that could respond to the evolving demands of the market immediately.
As Exterity didn’t have such major investments, we were extremely cautious in our very focused target audience. This was the priority from day one: to identify a viable customer base, acquire them successfully, sell vigorously, and continually adapt to their needs. To this day, our business answers three questions: “Is this sellable?”, “Can we generate revenue?” and “Will this drive business growth?”
These questions have helped us to move from a small company based solely in Fife, Scotland, to a global player with offices across eight countries.
Prepare early for the next big wave of innovation
Technology moves at an unprecedented pace, and while high-speed Internet has certainly been a boon for us, we are conscious of the need to remain at the forefront of innovation in a world that moves faster than ever.
No business can be on top of all the latest trends. Instead, it’s important to define a framework to review the options. Our approach is based on answering three questions:
1. What are the immediate needs of our customers?
2. What are the forecast future macro developments?
And, knowing these,
3. How can we help our customers today and in the future?
I believe that a big part of our success has to do with being focused on a key, high-growth market: TV and video technology. Today, this market is on the cusp of adopting more immersive resolutions, such as 4K Ultra HD. At the same time, consumers are turning to smartphones as their main video device, which has a direct impact on the tools they expect to use at work. This is where the intersection of the industry’s trends and our own offering lies: our product suite, which traditionally focused on big TV screens and PC monitors, has been expanded to deliver the same experience to mobile devices for our clients across the whole world. This enables us to meet our clients’ requirements today and in the future.
Tap into local expertise
As a UK business, we have been asked countless times whether we were planning to relocate to London, particularly when we opened our new headquarters in Fife in June 2015. In fact, we found more open doors when we relocated from the centre of Edinburgh to Fife, and we are committed to Scotland. We invest in local talent in every country where we have an office – from the US to Australia – and work with partners in the rest of the world. This has enabled us to build a global presence and to be available at all times, regardless of our clients’ requirements.
This leads to another classic trope for entrepreneurs: believing that they need to do everything themselves. For businesses that want to expand internationally, fostering strategic partnerships can be a fundamental ingredient to success. Entrepreneurs should focus on finding the right partners – those that unwaveringly deliver your message, story and products successfully as if they were their own.
Over the years, we have built our ‘StreamForce Partner Program’, which enables us to work closely with local, in-country distributors, resellers, integrators and representatives to sell our products locally. Our partners today understand the complexities of our products, their features, multi-industry applications and the wider local market. They can respond to very specific client demands directly. To empower them, we run regular training sessions and we ensure that they receive our product updates, sales tools and marketing collateral on a regular basis – our partners have been a cornerstone to our growth and success beyond the UK, and we know that the investment we spent in training was well worth it.
Invest in training
Further to the previous point, training should be an unwavering commitment for any business that wants to grow. Every employee, partner and stakeholder involved with your business should ultimately be an ambassador. When it comes to international expansion, training needs to be formalised at the corporate level to ensure consistency across markets.
Since founding Exterity, investment in training has been a priority for Mike and I. We both came from companies that had strong partner infrastructures, and saw this as a tool to ensure increased productivity, enhanced product quality and team retention.
The training, as well as open support channels for our strategic partners around the world – largely through on-the-ground assistance and courses – is something we pride ourselves on delivering at scale. Back when we had 10 partners in the UK, we could cater to them individually. Now with hundreds around the world, we have taken best practices from our early engagements, scaled up those principles and formalised them into today’s StreamForce Partner Program.
If our partners can speak our language and truly represent us, then we know we’ve done our job.
Moving from a young start-up to a robust international business takes time. There will inevitably be roadblocks, surprises and setbacks – but despite all of that, success is at hand for companies that follow the few rules we have outlined in this article. As we keep growing, we face new challenges and we are always looking for the right people to join us in our expansion – here in the UK and around the world.